"Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again..."

Location: Tampa, FL, United States

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Soy'aling of the American Food Supply

A Saturday Night Live skit from 1976 (Shimmer, with Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd and Gilda Radner) joked about a floor wax that was also a great dessert topping. Thirty years later we know the idea may not be too far-fetched. Soybean-based food products are as widespread as notoriety-starved reporters reporting on bird flu. In other words, they’re everywhere. Not only is soy found in foods, it’s in numerous nonfood items as well. Products like plastics, paints, resins, polyurethanes, paints, varnishes, inks, crayons, cosmetics, mattresses, cushions, shoe soles, carpet padding, insulation, imitation marble, construction materials, engine lubricants, bio-diesel , mosquito repellant and oil-filled breast implants are all soy-based to some degree. Exploring soy further reveals its place in the food supply reeks of profit motives at the expense of the health of we the eaters.

The purported benefits of soy are numerous and advertised with a wealth of dollars fueling this media darling. It’s said to be a low-cost protein “substitute.” It’s said to lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, build healthy bones and treat menopause symptoms. On top of that it’s supposedly “non-allergenic.”

There are over 300 types of soybeans. They’re related to other legumes such as peas, beans, clover and peanuts. Historically, soy was used as a fertilizer and crop rotator. The lectins in soybeans react with Rhizobium bacteria to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the roots of the soybean plant. In 1913 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognized soy as an industrial product. Soy has been used as compost. Soy protein isolate (SPI) was used as a binder in cardboard boxes. At one point in time it was viewed as good old-fashioned garbage. It was also used as animal feed.

Much like the debasing of American currency through the years, the tactic has found its way into our food supply in the form of soy. Its aliases are numerous. The “ingredient” section on food packagings usually don’t read “soybeans,” but terms and phrases such as partially hydrogenated oil, textured vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, soy lecithin, soy oil, vegetable shortening, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, monosodium glutamate (MSG), soy flour, soy grits, lecithin, natural flavorings, E322 (emuslifiers), etc. Soy in one form or another is found in over half of grocery store items. It’s in oil, margarine, baked goods, cookies, bread, pizza, ice cream, processed foods, Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles, Pillsbury products, McDonald’s french fries, Nestle’s chocolate, salad dressings, mayonnaise, crackers, frozen foods, imitation dairy and meat products, peanut butter, coffee cream, your kid’s school lunch, institutional food and elsewhere. Then there are the soy items that don’t hide behind miniscule ingredient labels.

Soy Forms

These are the unabashedly soy products through and through—tofu, tempeh, natto, miso, shoyu, soy sauce and tamari. These all happen to be fermented products, (except tofu), containing a substantially lesser amount of phytates. This is important and addressed later. Tofu, like bean curd, is a puree of cooked soybeans precipitated with calcium sulfate (plaster of Paris) or magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts).

Soy protein isolate (SPI) is a soy form derived once the fat and carbohydrates have been removed. It’s the waste product of the margarine manufacturing process. After “purification” it still retains 30 petroleum compounds (e.g. butyl, phenol, hexanol, diphenyls, phenyl esters, etc.). Acid washing in aluminum tanks allows for high levels of aluminum in SPI. (Aluminum has been implicated in playing a role in Alzheimer’s Disease.) Soy protein isolate is the “low-cost” protein found in many food items, often as an alternative to those frightened by animal sources of protein. The demonization of saturated fat has helped tremendously in getting soy protein isolate into many food products. However, soy protein isolate is not a complete protein. It’s a poor provider of the amino acids methionine, cysteine and threonine.

A byproduct of the alkaline soaking process SPI endures is lysinoalanine, which is a known carcinogen. The alkalization process is necessary to eliminate enzyme inhibitors, which have their own problems. SPI is typically found in veggie burgers and energy bars. Of all soy products, it’s the SPI that contains the highest amount of saponins. Saponins are known to damage the intestinal lining, enlarge the thyroid gland and cause “leaky gut” by binding with cholesterol. Moreover, saponins are known to cause a derangement of the lysine:arginine ratio, constituting a heart disease risk.

Refined soy oil is commonly found in salad dressings, snack foods, cakes, cookies and of course the rancid, yellow vegetable oils commonly used to make Thanksgiving desserts. Ninety percent of the margarine market is made up of soy. Nearly eighty percent of the hydrogenated oil market is made up of soy. These figures become more relevant once the downside of soy is more fully known.

Soy lecithin is an emulsifying agent. Soy lecithin keeps water and fat from separating in foods and liquids such as margarine, peanut butter, ice cream, coffee cream, infant formulas, chocolate candies, etc. It’s also used in cosmetics. It’s obtained from the sludge after crude soy oil is degummed. It’s said to be hypoallergenic due to the elimination of protein, however minute amounts of protein persist post-“removal.” Kunitz trypsin inhibitors, which are capable of triggering severe allergic reactions, have been identified in soy lecithin.

Another commercial extraction of soy is LPE, or lypophosphatidylethanolamine. It’s used as a fruit ripener and shelf-life extender. The grape, cranberry, strawberry, apple, tomato, blueberry and cut flowers industries are known to spray their products with LPE.


$20 billion worth of soybeans are processed yearly to produce soy oil. With that in mind, consider the tortuous process soy undergoes to become “edible.”

Degumming separates the lecithin from the oil. Unfortunately it also removes trace minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, iron and chlorophyll. To be deodorized soy sometimes requires heating up to 518F. To rid soy of fatty acids refined oil is mixed with sodium hydroxide (i.e. Drano® is 2.5% sodium hydroxide). The bleaching process is important to rid soy of its reddish-brown appearance. A byproduct of bleaching is peroxide free radicals. If hydrogenated, the hydrogen gas is forced through the oil in the presence of a catalyst at temperatures over 400F, for 5 to 6 hours. Hydrogenation is important to harden the oil. Think margarine here. One could argue margarine is closer to the plastic family than the food kingdom. If a food item contains partially hydrogenated oil then it contains the mutagenic trans fatty acids. These fats are essentially foreign to your cell membranes but get incorporated anyway if you slam a bagel, doughnut or any other trans fat-containing food item. As such your cells become sub-proficient. Hydrogenation wipes out enzymes, vitamins, minerals and nutrients in general.

More Harmful Effects

Monsanto is the reigning king of the soybean market. Monsanto is not an Indian but a large agritech corporation. They have genetically modified (GM) soybeans in various ways for marketing purposes. They have what’s known as a RoundUp Ready genetically-modified soybean that assimilates and tolerates ten times as much RoundUp (a herbicide) as natural soybeans. Of the 72 million acres devoted to growing soy in America 58 million of those are for GM soy. The long-term effects of ingesting GM soy are not yet known. Essentially, thanks to Monsanto’s partnering with the FDA and EPA we’re all part of one gargantuan, uncontrolled study so Monsanto can keep its share holders happy as bird flu-free larks.

The mineral-stripping phytates have been linked with immune deficiencies, poor growth and anemia in Third World countries. They’re relatively harmless if soaking and fermenting are performed. This means phytates are only rendered impotent if you’re eating tempeh, natto, miso, shoyu or tamari. All other soy forms are not fermented.

Phytoestrogens are estrogenic-like substances that interfere with your body’s natural estrogen. Therefore they interfere with estrogen production. Of the 300 plants known to have estrogenic activity only one has found its way into the American food supply—soy! Isoflavones are the major player in this phytoestrogenic group. Isoflavones exist in 70 types of plants. They’re structurally related to diethylstilbestrol (DES). The 3 main types of isoflavones are genistein, daidzein and glyciein.

Genestein is the predominant isoflavone. It’s usually derived from GM soy. It is known to interfere with potassium to cause arrhythmias. It can also reduce DNA synthesis in the brain, reducing new brain cell production.

Isoflavones find their highest concentration in soybeans. Of soy products, the highest concentration is in soy flour, soy grits, SPI and textured vegetable protein. Isoflavones are not removed by heat, pressure and/or alkaline treatment. They’re only removed by alcohol solvent extraction.

Isoflavones interfere with the enzyme tyrosine kinase. This is an enzyme found in the hippocampus (brain area) that is responsible for learning and memory. Tyrosine kinase causes a decrease in brain calcium-binding protein, which is needed for protection against neurodegenerative disease. Because of isoflavones’ actions one can easily extrapolate the possible relationship with soy ingestion and Alzheimer’s.

Isoflavones are also goitrogenic, meaning, they can mess up thy thyroid gland. From 1975 to 1996 there was a 42.1% increase in incidence of thyroid cancer, especially in women.

In soy there are protease inhibitors. The two principal types are Kunitz and Bowman-Birk. Heat deactivates most of these but only fermentation deactivates a sufficient amount. It’s the protease inhibitors that bind trypsin. The net result is inhibition of protein digestion and can possibly lead to the enlargement of the pancreas. The protease inhibitors potentiate two known pancreatic carcinogens—azaserine and nitrosamine. Every animal test has resulted in adverse effects on the pancreas. The Kunitz inhibitor is a potent allergen. The soy industry itself refers to protease inhibitors as “non-nutritive dietary compounds.”

Lectins agglutinate the blood. That’s clot. They too can possibly cause enlargement of the pancreas. The bind to villi and crypt cells of the small intestine causing untoward effects, including: diminished capacity for absorption and digestion; interference with hormone and growth factor signaling and unfavorable shift of microbial flora. Lectins resist breakdown by enzymes in the gut. They too can provoke allergic reactions via a delayed hypersensitivity reaction (related to IgG). Lectins react synergistically with saponins. Lastly, lectins may contribute to Juvenile onset diabetes (Type I).

Soybeans contain soyatoxins. These can cause clotting.

Soybeans are high in oxalates. Of soy products the highest amount of oxalates are found in SPI. These are indigestible compounds that prevent absorption of calcium. Oxalates may lead to kidney stone formation and in females, vulvodynia (i.e. pain of external genitalia). Spinach, chocolate and peanuts contain lots of oxalates.

Soy goitrogens include manganese in addition to isoflavones and saponins. Thyroid disease is widespread in the soy-consuming Japan. Reports of enlarged thyroid glands in soy-fed rats and chickens were first reported in medical journals in the 1930’s. Autoimmune thyroid disease is far more likely in children fed soy formula.

Infants and Soy

Soy protein was introduced into infant formula in the early 1960s. Today, infant soy formula commands 25% of the infant formula market share. Soy infant formula contains 100 times as much aluminum as breast milk. Harking back to phytates, which chelate zinc, it’s important to recognize zinc is important for brain development, immune system development, protein digestion, nervous system development, and to keep iron levels in check.

Infants fed soy formula, which contain about 130,000 times more isoflavones than human breast milk, are essentially on “birth control pills.” The major soy product in infant soy formula is soy protein isolate (SPI). Soy-fed babies have a higher incidence of insulin-dependent diabetes, hypothyroidism, asthma and autoimmune thyroid disease than their breast- and milk-fed counterparts. 1% of female babies now show early signs of puberty at age 3! Once these infants reach adulthood they’re more likely to have higher rates of cervical cancer, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), blocked fallopian tubes, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), hormonal disorders and multiple births. Accounting for the impact of environmental xenoestrogens (e.g. plastics, pesticides, shampoos, hormones in meat products, etc.) has not shown to minimize the impact of isoflavones in infant soy formula. The manufacturing process for infant soy formula creates the toxins lysinoalanine and nitrosamines. Sperm count has fallen from 113 million/ml to 66 million/ml between 1940 and 1990.

With infant soy formula manganese absorption is much less than that of breast milk but the content is so high the net result is likely toxic. About 8% of the excess is deposited in the basal ganglia. Researchers continue to study if there’s a possible connection with ADD, ADHD and violent behavior. Deficiency of male hormones in monkeys has shown to impair spatial perception, learning ability and visual discrimination. Whereas soy formula ramped up in the 1970s the soy connection is prudent to consider and investigate. Just don’t look for the soy industry to exhaustively pursue this.

There’s an estimated 16 to 30 proteins in soy formula capable of causing allergies. There’s potential cross-allergenicity with soy and peanuts. A soy protein has been identified as cross-reacting with caseins from cow’s milk. An infant allergic to cow’s milk has a 47-60% chance of also being allergic to soy formula.

There are two alternatives to breast- and cow’s milk. They are hypoallergenic hydrolyzed casein and whey formula. Asia is often cited as reason to accept the health and safety benefits of soy formula. Most Asian babies are breastfed then switched to a dairy-based formula.


Soy represents a $100 billion industry. Any industry the large has the temptation to compromise integrity for the lure of profits. It’s a motive that’s prudent to check out.
The target market is clearly vegetarians and the poor. Much soy is exported overseas, with may partly explain the recent rise in obesity in these parts. Animal fat is demonized, and hence animal protein, and soy protein isolate is there to fill the void.

Returning to Monsanto. This one company controls 2/3 of the American soybean market. There was a quote once in the Toronto Globe, in reference to Monsanto and FDA appointees by then President Bill Clinton, which read, “…retirement home for the Clinton Administration.”

Monsanto has a very favorable position by holding patents on both RoundUp Ready soybeans and RoundUp the herbicide. Every time they grow their RoundUp Ready GM soy market they automatically sell more RoundUp the herbicide! One wonders if the 1987 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to raise the toxicity level of RoundUp from 6 parts per million to 20 parts per million was a product of sound science or not.

The FDA’s approval of Monsanto’s GM soybean (marketed in 1996) was in spite of flawed studies and some suspect “testing.” The soybeans analyzed did not have any RoundUp applied! Therefore, what’s sold was never actually tested. There was not any reported data on RoundUp’s effects on estrogen. The protein analysis was performed on the inserted bacterium protein, and not on the GM soybean itself. The toxicity tests performed on rats looked at the bacterium and not the GM soybean. The animal feeding experiments were short-term. Male rats fed GM soy exhibited adverse effects on their liver, kidney, testicles weight. Data from an earlier experiment revealing lower levels of phenylalanine was omitted.

An article appearing in JAMA (August 15, 2001) was generally taken as accepted proof soy formula was safe. The study apparently did not look into effects on thyroid function. The soy formula industry funded the study.

In general, the FDA has granted agritech companies the right to self-police themselves. Toxicity data may be kept “in-house" as long as agritech companies voluntarily report any alleged misconduct.


I read once that people who eat natural foods die of natural causes. The message being you health nuts die your way and I’ll die my way. Others trivialize the inevitability of their mortality with statements like “we all die from something.” Other soy lovers will dismiss the concerns with the “it tastes good” defense.

Fermented soy appears to be the only form of soy that’s not riddled with multiple health-related concerns. However, fermented soy isn’t the soy that’s in the myriad of products filling grocery stores these days. If you’re neither motivated or interested in pursuing the topic further it may be beneficial to cut back on soy anyway, at least for a while. See if there’s any change in the way you feel (or think).

This brief report is filled with statistics and claims without an acceptable degree of referencing (limited referencing available if you request by e-mail or comment the MS Doc version). It’s not intended to be any more thorough as far more qualified materials with extensive references are readily available. The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla Daniel, Ph.D., CCN is a great place to start. She has several hundred references and doesn’t shy away from addressing the soy apologists and their “evidence-based” claims head-on.

Reference links and related articles- Joseph Mercola, MD on soy

Tim O'Shea's article on soy

Russell Blaylock, MD on soy

link to the book The Whole Soy Story
by Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD CCN


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